Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Jicho pevu, blinded


On the evening of 27 April 1993, a DHC-5 Buffalo transport aircraft of the Zambian Air Force crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after taking off from Libreville, Gabon. The flight was  carrying most of the Zambian national football team to a FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Senegal in Dakar. Kenya's energy cabinet secretary, seemingly reeling in shock at the arrest and arraignment of senior officers of the Kenya Power company, compared the arrests to one of the most devastating air disasters in Zambian history. The waziri, oblivious to the incredible insensitivity of his words or sentiments, epitomises the ukubwa syndrome that afflicts senior public officers like nothing else ever will.

Every single day, indignities are visited on Kenyans by the Big People in Government, business, academia, religious ministries, and civil society. To be in command of vast sums of money and to employs large numbers of Kenyans s to give you power and to have power in Kenya is often to blind oneself to everything else except the retention and expansion of that power, even if it means forgetting a cardinal truth: even a cat may stare at a king.

It has been an incredible month of insensitivity, especially from our political masters. A governor surrendered himself to the anticorruption commission, was taken into custody, detained and had his bail application determined while he was in custody. The governors' association was unhappy with this and demanded the same executive immunity enjoyed by the president while in office. Meanwhile, a group of twenty parliamentarians were sponsored by Parliament to attend the World Cup finals in Russia. All their expenses were catered for by Parliament. When challenged on their seemingly valueless junket, Parliament's officials first attempted to justify it by saying that these parliamentarian were "benchmarking" so that Kenya could see how to host major tourneys like the World Cup in the future. But soon enough the parliamentarians set aside all pretense and one of them declared shamelessly that he was not about to spend his money to attend the World Cup when Government was there to do so for him.

We are used to Government functionaries being treated like royalty, with access to every kind of luxury an privilege while millions of Kenyans suffer poverty on a scale that has to be seen to be believed. We have never strongly questioned the iniquity and inequity of taxes being spent for the comfort of a political class that has consistently failed to ameliorate the suffering of the masses. And every time we are shocked that a hitherto champion of the downtrodden will enter the citadel and, while promising to bring it all crumbling down, joins in the acquisitive avarice of the rest of the class. What was once billed as the "grim eye", it turns out, was nothing more than the green-eyed monster rearing its ugly head. It is a story that repeats itself over and over. And so whenever they find themselves on the wrong side of things, having gotten used to privilege in all things, they will demand further privileges to ameliorate their suffering. And their colleagues and friends will rend their clothes in the streets, pour ash over their hair and wear sackcloth until the unfairness ends. It is why Charles Keter does not see the offensive irony of equating the arrest of Ben Chumo and his colleagues to the death of twenty-five Zambians.

Sooner or later, we keep telling ourselves, the music will stop and we will build a more equitable society. I fear that our famed optimism blinds us to a harsh reality: so long as the society we dream off is to be erected on the foundation of the society we have today, with the structures of power that keep it in place, we will never succeed in that ambition. The power structure we have now is designed to exploit the majority. It is not built for national ambitions. It is the manifestation of elitist greed. In the end, it will consume us all.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Why do they hate children?

The Chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation wrote an open letter to the students of Kenya's boarding schools entitled "An open letter to students turned arsonists". He did not mince words nor hold back his views. The main thrust of his missive seems to be that regardless of the circumstances prevailing in boarding schools, schoolchildren should only react by "being able to express themselves without resorting to idiotic violent means". It seems that his argument is that schoolchildren should never, ever resort to violence, and if they do, they should face the full force of the law, including imprisonment where they will meet others like them who will teach them a lesson.

The Chairman of the Kenya Examinations Council was not to be left behind. He warned all children who were learning in schools whose facilities had been set aside that regardless of how many schools the students burned down, the examinations body would administer the exams, even if it meant doing so under trees. He warned the children that his council would not be intimidated by the ongoing unrest in schools. He and his council would not be moved by the demands of the children.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education, however, takes the cake. In a stemwinder of a press conference, she covered familiar ground regarding the reasons for the student unrest. National examinations, and the desire by children to cheat in them, featured prominently in her assessment of the basis of the recent unrest. She had similarly hard truths to impart on the children: not only would she encourage the prosecution of any child accused of participating in school unrest, she encouraged the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to refuse to grant them certificates of good conduct in future. In addition, she would make sure that their school leaving papers indicated that they were troublemakers and should be denied a university education and, with it, any opportunity to make something of themselves. She did not just want them to be punished; she wanted their lives to be destroyed.

Government in all its manifestations, and the men who agree with Government's current policies, seems to be in the throes of an anti-child programme of astonishing width and depth. It started with the ham-fisted manner in which the Free Maternity programme was implemented, and then sabotaged, by Ministry of Health officials and their boosters. Then came the multi-billion shilling disaster that was the School Laptops Programme and the fascist way in which the new competence-based curriculum is being rammed down our throats. And this is just the official Government position on things that fundamentally affect the lives of Kenyan children.

But with the recent tirade by the Cabinet Secretary regarding student unrest it is now patently clear that no one in that Ministry gives two shits about the welfare of children. I initially thought that the manner in which the twin disasters at Moi Girls Nairobi had been dealt with had something to do with the powerful parents in that school who intervened in force. But by declaring her support for setting policemen on children for violent protests without addressing the root causes of the violence, I know for damn sure that she does not care at all. What she, and the Government she serves, want is to be obeyed without question and we should be grateful for any small accommodation Government makes.

Children should not set dormitories and other school property on fire. However, when they are brutalised by their teachers, when they are housed like badly treated pets, when their nourishment is of a quality that will make a billy goat puke, when they are denied every single avenue to decompress in the name of high passmarks, and when they are isolated from their parents and other social structures so that the truth about their straitened circumstances remains a secret, the only avenue is violence and I cannot in good conscience hold it against them. That Government, in the haughty demeanour of the Cabinet Secretary and the hostile arrogance of the KNEC supremo, cannot imagine the legitimacy and urgency of the children's demands should be a stark warning about the future and a reminder of the past: disobey us and we will end you. What should scare the bejeesus out of you is that there are influential members of the business community who think that this attitude is the right one.

It is astonishing that a country can be held hostage to the fascist designs of a few men and women. It is astonishing that the debate about the turn of things is confined to social media. But it is utterly crazy that we seem on a rail track headed for Armageddon and it seems that there is nothing we can do about it. What I don't understand is why they hate children with such violent viscera? Do you know?

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Whither art thou, LSK?

We are concerned that Mr Omtatah is getting a lot of leeway in the courts. He relies on information provided by disgruntled elements in a corporation or in government using confidential and privilege information - LSK President Allen Gichuhi as quoted in the Daily Nation on the 2nd July, 2017 (Lawyers accuse Okiya Omtatah of 'taking their jobs')
Why is the Law Society of Kenya concerned with the leeway that the eponymous Okiya Omtatah enjoys in the hallowed halls of justice? What is it about Mr Omtatah's public interest litigation that drives its members up the wall? Could it be that the members of the Society resent being shown up for the empty suits that they are when it comes to the question of the protection of the rights and fundamental freedoms of Kenyans in a badly fractured country reeling from successive botched elections that have left dozens dead, thousands maimed and billions in public and private property looted or destroyed?

When you remember the Society's previous chairmen (before some idiot decided "president" was the title to have), the ones that stand out are the ones that refused to sup with the devil that is the carceral Kenyan State. Paul Muite, Gibson Kamau Kuria and Willy Mutunga stand out because they took one the Kanu Government when the "business community" had completely capitulated to the ruling party's dictates. They led the members of the Society in challenging the State whenever it exceeded its authority and many of its members paid a heavy price for standing up to the State and its agents. But since the heavy wattage campaign of Ahmednasir Abdullahi, the Society has slowly abandoned the central role it had played in the Second Liberation and, instead, it has taken up roles that have slowly compromised its principles. In fact, Kenneth Akide was the last LSK chairman who dared to challenge Government and only because it would have been unseemly of him not to in on election year.

But as a matter of course, today, the Society's interests almost always align with those of Government and very little with those of the people whose rights or fundamental freedoms are under siege today more than ever. And when its members run afoul of Government, or they end up dead at the hands of Government agents, lip service is all they will merit. Willy Kimani, an advocate who still espoused the principles that made the Society great, was murdered by policemen for simply doing his job, yet more than a year later, the Society's presidents are renown for mouthing the right words of grief without actually doing anything. Futile it might have been, but you can bet your last shilling that Paul Muite, Kamau Kuria and Willy Mutunga would have actively participated in the lawsuits that would have been brought against Government for the murder. In Miguna Miguna's words, "the Law Society of Kenya is a toothless dog".

Mr Gichuhi shouldn't be concerned that Mr Omtatah seems to enjoy great leeway in court or that he benefits from confidential information filched from the bowels of Government. No, he should be more concerned that he is the latest in a growing line of LSK chairmen and presidents who wish to form "string partnerships" with Government at a pivotal time in the history of Kenya. The LSK was not meant to be Government's partner beyond the place of its members as officers of the court. The LSK was meant to use the tools of the law available to it to hold the Government to account when every other public institution, including Parliament, had failed to do so. 
 
Mr Gichuhi's problem is that he thinks the LSK is an adjunct arm of the State and he hates Mr Omtatah for reminding him that it is not and never has been. Mr Omtatah has not "taken the mandate of the LSK" nor do Kenyans trust him more than the LSK because "he has made a name for himself". Mr Omtatah has filled the public interest vacuum that the LSK has created by its fecklessness and it is this fecklessness that has made more and more Kenyans to distrust it and repose their trust, instead, in Mr Omtatah. Soon enough, if Mr Gichuhi and his successors are not careful, the Society will not just be a pale shadow of its former self but it will be seen as having betrayed the confidence of the people and to be treated with the same contempt and suspicion that Kenyans treat much of their government. Attacking Mr Omtatah's work is not the solution to what ails the Society. It's time someone reminded the Socity's members of what made them respected and, in some cases, revered.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Succession politics are here to stay

politics n. the activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power.
It seems that Kenya's tabloid editors have conflated "politics" with the second Kenyatta succession. They pooh-pooh the "early 2022 campaigns" as if, in and of themselves, the campaigns are inherently bad. They also seem to have adopted the president's disapprobation of these campaigns, regardless of the merits of the disapprobation. No one seems to have asked the question though: why shouldn't politicians interested in the second Kenyatta succession not campaign for their preferred putative 2022 presidential candidate in 2018?

Kenya's politics are not unique in their obsessions with individuals, tribes or alliances. Kenya's politics are not unique in their failure to address public policies, the effects of poor governance or the outcomes of entrenched corruption. Kenya's politics has not been about policy, governance or anti-corruption for at least three decades and anyone that says otherwise simply has their head buried in the sand.

There are many things that are wrong in Kenya today. Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta either exacerbated them or studiously refused to do anything to ameliorate the suffering these things caused. What Kenya's presidents have done since Kenya became a republic is to cultivate cults of personality with a view to cementing their authority and clinging on to power at all costs. "Development" in all its iterations has not been a presidential priority if it did not assure presidents of absolute power at all costs.

Whether we like or not, and because of Kenya's poor recent history of presidential succession, the second Kenyatta succession is a ripe topic of political speculation and those intending to be on the winning side are going to exploit the inherent infirmities in the Jubilation to keep the subject alive regardless of presidential wishes. In pursuit of their agendas, they will use whatever political tools at their disposal, including exposing the corruption credentials of key members and the failures of the current regime to improve the economic prospects of many Kenyans. They will highlight the reasons why one person should not succeed the president and why another should. Regardless of how much it shifts focus from public policies and anti-corruption campaigns, the second Kenyatta succession will not fade into the background. It will be the organising principle of Kenya's politics till the matter is settled, one way or the other.

The fallout of the obsession with the second Kenyatta succession is not had to foresee. Elected politicians and senior members of the civil service will be compelled to pick sides, and with their choices, specific public policies will be pursued at the expense of others, which will in turn will affect the manner in which public funds are appropriated and spent. Economic development, such as it is, will not be the primary focus of Government, despite the lip service that will be paid to job-creation, a stable taxation policy, low inflation rates and rising consumer confidence. Who comes after President Kenyatta is the only subject that our political classes are capable of thinking through with some measure of clarity. They are not about to commit themselves to the hard task of doing what politics demands of them: governing.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Has he lost the war?:

Donald J. Trump, the forty-fifth president of the United States of America, is a showman of incomparable repute. He has undone two hundred and fifty years of received wisdom regarding the most powerful office in the world. In a span of a year and a half, he has demonstrated that the Shiny City on the Hill, in Caliph Ronald Reagan's immortal words, is no different from Kinshasa, Harare, Lagos, Kampala or Nairobi. The United States Capitol, and the White House down the street, have bared their faces, revealing graft and nepotism on a scale previously unknown. And with its unmasking, the USA is leading the rest of the western democracies to unmask themselves to reveal their base and corrupted systems.

However, despite the revelation that Western Democracy is but a euphemism for camouflage, more and more African men and women wish to emigrate to the West, because, even if they are hated and persecuted because of the colours of their skins, their chances of living decently appear greater over there than over here. It is why, on balance, if Uhuru Kenyatta and his African Union peers fail to improve the lives of their peoples, the rickety boats killing Africans in droves in the Mediterranean will keep on sailing.

Uhuru Kenyatta has decided to be the public face of the latest battle in the War on Corruption, an endeavour that has seen an ex-police sharpshooter (known as "Boss"), an ex-judge (brilliant jurist; terrible at everything else), an ex-law lecturer (a pompous windbag whose tenure was mercifully short), an ex-accountant (who tried to pretend that he did not understand what "conflict of interest" means and was shoved aside for his trouble) and now, an ex-church leader (a doddery old man with the naivete of a teenager), lead the combined armies of anti-corruption soldiers to humiliating defeats. In this war, battles have been fought and lost on numerous battlefields whose names have sounded the death knell of trust in the integrity of the State itself: Goldenberg, Triton, Kazi kwa Vijana, Anglo-Leasing, NYS...the list is long and its devastation almost total. Uhuru Kenyatta is waging the war with florid rhetoric and performative anger. But he appears not to have a war-fighting strategy. If this is true, all it will take is for one humiliating battle defeat for him to withdraw from the field and pursue less legacy-building disasters.

We have long known, even without the benefit of Donald Trump's revealing behaviour, that graft can only be fought on multiple fronts. The law is not the only weapon in the arsenal. Yet we have done precious little to bring the other weapons to bear. As a result, those weapons have been co-opted by the forces of corruption, wearing down their utility in this war, and eroding the public trust in political, cultural, academic, social and economic institutions. If the fiasco that is Bad Sugar is anything to go by, the heart of the State, the Cabinet, can't be trusted to shoot straight in this war, and this undermines almost completely the president's stated ambitions.

The president is waging a losing war if he cannot even acknowledge that his Cabinet can't be trusted, his police chiefs can't be trusted, his army commanders can't be trusted, and the public prosecutor and judges have axes to grind that have nothing to do with his war. All it will take for his rhetoric to be ineffective is another multibillion shilling NYS heist, not counting all the other multibillion shilling heists that have already taken place on his watch. Perhaps, he lost the war long ago. Only that he doesn't realise it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The solution is not simply mass killings

Wishful thinking is now gaining adherents in Kenya if the rhetoric surrounding the War Against Corruption: Uhuru Edition is anything to go by. The most popular wish among the people seems to be a China-style death penalty for all public officials accused of graft. It isn't just a wish among the noisiest windbags sitting in the national legislature, but it pervades the firmament of the editorial classes of Kenya's tabloid media, including the nation's most popular tabloid. I was also a little shocked to see that senior leaders of Kenya's faith-based communities were of one mind when it came to graft in high places: death! (I shouldn't have been though; religious zealots tend to be particularly blood-thirsty.)

I have never understood the bloodlust that accompanies public discourse regarding knotty public policy problems and failures. It is as if death is a magic wand that you can wave and solve the nation's problem. The logic is dangerously simple: some people are bad; bad people should not live; any person who does something wrong is a bad person; all bad persons must be killed to save the country. There is little to no discourse about what allows "bad" people to thrive in the first place, though, every now and then an Op-Ed will slip through the net and demonstrate that sometimes the system encourages "bad" behaviour.

In recent months a familiar swindle has taken place and the public has been ribbed of billions in broad daylight. Also, despite reams of reports regarding the gaps in the public health surveillance system, contaminated food items have been smuggled into the country and dumped in the market. The death-penalty jihadists have insisted that every crook connected to NYS II and contaminated sugar must be executed to preserve the nation. Almost none has seen to fit to ask why, after everything that happened with NYS I, the loopholes associated with the tendering process at the National Youth Service were not closed. Or why the perennially dysfunctional sugar industry has not attracted the pro-reform zealots in the privatisation department.

Corruption, and its negative outcomes, is not just about corrupt people. It is also about systems that can be manipulated to corrupt ends. Of course I know that there are no perfect systems; but refusing to acknowledge that our plethora of anti-corruption laws, rules and regulations, institutions and strategic plans have failed in this war is to acknowledge that we are more enamoured of the rhetoric of anti-corruption as opposed to any actual anti-corruption campaign. The substance of the thing is sometimes more important than its form.

The solution is not simply mass killings.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Who stole from Shujaa Pride?

One of the funniest things I read today was about how mad the President's Chief of Staff and the headboy of the Kenya Rugby Union were because the members of Kenya's Sevens' team covered over the sponsor's name on their team jerseys when they absolutely flattened Fiji in France last night. Apparently, team Kenya covered the words "Make it Kenya", for which they were paid by Brand Kenya to wear, because their allowances from the sponsorship monies hadn't been paid by KRU. What was amusing is that it is the men who sweated it out on the pitch that were wrong - not the men who collected money on their behalf and refused to pay our athletes what they were rightfully owed.

In Kenya it is of vital importance that Government and its various sclerotic appendages are not embarassed, no matter how badly their officers act or how crooked their dealings are. It is the patriotic duty of every Kenya to ensure that Government always saves face - or at least it seems as if it is expected to be our patriotic duty. If the emperor has no clothes on then Godammit, it's you patriotic duty to pretend that he is wearing the finest three-piece suit from a Saville Row tailor.

It is why our rugby heroes will face the sharp end of the stick when they jet back into the country. How dare they show up the feckless penny-ante thievery of the men appointed to look after their welfare? How dare they show such disrespect to Brand Kenya and, by extension, Government by showing it up for failing or refusing to pay them their allowances? How dare they tell the whole rugby world that Government doesn't pay its dues? How dare they?!

If there is one thing that has allowed the war on corruption to seem like a lost cause, it is this instinct to protect public officers and the institutions they manage. It is why cover-ups are so easy in Kenya: don't embarass the boss has been elevated to a cardinal truth. It takes years and a brave whistleblower before the truth is ever known, by which time billions have been pilfered, frittered, and, all in all, remain unaccounted for. If the brave Sevens' team hadn't highlighted the fact that public funds, expended ostensibly on their behalf, had gone missing, would Kenyans have ever found out? I doubt it. Instead of Messrs Waita and Omwela losing their rags over the minor rebellion by the athletes, they must ask themselves what were the circumstances that prevented our hard-working and quite talented athletes from receiving their dues.  In short, who stole from Shujaa Pride?